Tea and Coffee Consumption
Whether it’s a necessity for getting up in the morning, the backbone of many social interactions or just the taste, for many people both tea and/or coffee play a significant role in everyday life. In Australia, coffee and tea are the most popular choice of drinks, second only to water (1). So, grab your matcha or macchiato as we delve into some of the pros and cons of tea and coffee on our health.
What are the pros of drinking tea when it comes to our health?
No matter if it’s green, black, oolong, herbal or white, tea can have a calming effect on our body. Tea also keeps you hydrated and is a good source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that latch on to free radicals in the body to reduce oxidative stress. It is this stress that is associated with inflammation and chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. As such, it is suggested that the antioxidants in tea act as anti-carcinogens with anti-inflammatory properties. The Australian Heart Foundation also found there to be a relationship between improved endothelial function and decreased visceral fat with green tea consumption, but it should be noted that this relationship is relatively weak (2). There are also many tea enthusiasts who dedicate their lives to the art of brewing, with kettles now being sold with a varying temperature function (rather than the standard boiling) to create the ideal cup of tea. Sounds like a pretty good hobby to me.
What are the types of teas that are most beneficial for us?
As we discussed, all tea is high in antioxidants with the major difference between tea variations being the way it is treated after picking. Green tea is unfermented with deactivated enzymes and black tea is fermented with active enzymes. These different processes offer a different antioxidant profile. Green tea is higher in catechins and black tea is higher in theaflavins, yet both seem to have the same antioxidant effect (3). Another tea to consider is matcha, which is essentially ground up green tea leaves that form a powder. It is claimed that matcha tea is said to have 10 times the nutritional value of green tea, but it is also more expensive (nearly double the cost) and contains higher levels of caffeine. The general consensus, based on observational studies (which in the evidence-based world are relatively weak) is that drinking tea seems to have a positive impact on health, but like anything, you can have too much of a good thing.
What are the cons of drinking tea when it comes to our health?
All teas contain compounds called flavonoids, in particular tannin. Tannins are responsible for the bitter taste of tea and are known for having anti-nutrient (a compound that prevents absorption) properties. In particular, tannins can bind to iron and reduce our body’s uptake (4). It’s also important to remember that tea still contains caffeine which in high amounts can lead to irritability, sleeplessness, headaches, anxiety and gastro-intestinal upset (5). Tea drinking can also become problematic if you are the type of person who takes their tea with sugar. The World Health Organisation recommends no more than 6 added teaspoons of sugar a day, however, most Australians are exceeding this amount (6).
What are the pros of drinking coffee when it comes to our health?
When it comes to the health benefits of coffee, there seems to be a divide in public opinion. On one side, there is the belief that coffee increases your risk of cancer, disrupts your natural circadian rhythm, causes dehydration and diarrhoea, and in such a fast paced world, is ultimately a stimulant many should do without. Alternatively, coffee is praised for its ability to improve mental cognition and focus, increase energy and endurance, aid weight loss, and reduce metabolic disease.
But what do the experts say? A recent meta-analysis conducted by the British Medical Journal looked at the association between coffee and health, concluding for the most part that coffee (due to its high antioxidant content) may reduce mortality rates (3 cups per day showing the strongest associated reduction), as well as help improve cardiovascular function, decrease cancer (prostate, endometrial, melanoma and liver), improve mood, and reduce the risk of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s (7).
Drinking coffee can also be a great way to get in your recommended daily serves of dairy when combined with a skim or full fat milk. Just keep in mind that if you generally choose an alternative milk (like soy, almond or rice) many of these are not fortified with added calcium and can be low in protein, therefore not offering the same health benefits as milk based coffee.
What are the cons of drinking coffee when it comes to our health?
There must be a reason why people will line up every morning at their local cafe, be on a first name basis with their barista and willingly hand over $4 give or take for a coffee ($1460 per year). This is perhaps because coffee, and more particularly caffeine, is addictive. In fact, withdrawal symptoms have been noted for people who drink large amounts (>400mg of caffeine or the equivalent of about 5 cups a day), with symptoms such as headache, heart palpitations, irritability and depression (5).
Is there an upper limit for the amount of coffee that is healthy to drink each day?
The Australian Heart Foundation recommends drinking less than 5 cups of coffee a day (2 )or less than approximately 400mg of caffeine. This is lowered to less than 200mg if you are pregnant as caffeine can cross the placenta and may increase the chance of miscarriage or lower birth weight (8).
Do you have a personal opinion as to which drink choice is better for our health—coffee or tea?
I must say, I love a cappuccino in the morning and often remark on how it is the highlight of my day (don’t tell my husband). I think it comes down to personal choice and what makes you feel good. Food/drink should be enjoyable and not a crutch for an underlying issue. If you drink coffee because you like the taste and it perks you up, then that is great, however, if you drink coffee or tea to mask the effects of pulling an all-nighter then you may be doing more harm than good. Focus instead on your sleep, staying hydrated and good nutrition so that you are not dependent on coffee as a means of general functioning. As someone who likes both tea and coffee but can be sensitive to caffeine, I tend to limit my intake to 1 coffee a day (always in the morning or I won’t be able to sleep) and drink herbal tea that doesn’t contain caffeine. But everybody is different and has a different tolerance. For some, these drinks can make them feel anxious and for others completely energised.
1. Australian Health Survey. Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12 [Internet]. Abs.gov.au. 2019 [cited 30 June 2019]. Available from: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/PrimaryMainFeatures/4364.0.55.007?OpenDocument
2. The Heart Foundation. Antioxidants Position Statement [Internet]. Heartfoundation.org.au. 2019 [cited 30 June 2019]. Available from: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/publications/Antioxidants-Position-Statement.pdf
3. Leung L, Su Y, Chen R, Zhang Z, Huang Y, Chen Z. Theaflavins in Black Tea and Catechins in Green Tea Are Equally Effective Antioxidants. The Journal of Nutrition. 2001;131(9):2248-2251.
4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Are anti-nutrients harmful? [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2019 [cited 1 July 2019]. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/
5. Sajadi-Ernazarova KR, Hamilton RJ. Caffeine, Withdrawal. [Updated 2018 Oct 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/
6. World Health Organisation. WHO guideline: sugar consumption recommendation [Internet]. World Health Organization. 2019 [cited 1 July 2019]. Available from: https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/
7. Poole R, Kennedy O, Roderick P, Fallowfield J, Hayes P, Parkes J. Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ. 2017;359:j5024.
8. The Royal Hospital for Women. Caffeine and Pregnancy [Internet]. Seslhd.health.nsw.gov.au. 2019 [cited 1 July 2019]. Available from: https://www.seslhd.health.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/migration/Mothersafe/documents/Caffeinenov27.pdf